ANDREA PIRLO

I am reading about one of the best footballers of our times Andrea Pirlo and I just share the opening written by the man himself: A pen. Beautiful, granted, but still a pen. A Cartier: shiny, a little bit heavier than a biro and emblazoned with the Milan crest. The ink cartridge was blue. Plain old blue. I looked at the pen, spun it round in my hand like an infant examining its first toy. I studied the thing from a few different angles, seeking out hidden depths and meanings. Trying to understand. Trying so hard that I felt a headache coming on and a few drops of sweat slide down my face.Finally, the flash of inspiration arrived. Mystery solved: it was, indeed, just a pen. No added extras. Its inventor had left it at that. Deliberately? Who knows.Suddenly I heard a voice. “For goodness’ sake, don’t use it to sign for Juventus.” Adriano Galliani had at least managed to come up with a decent line. As a leaving present, I’d have expected something a little more than his perfect comic timing. Ten years at Milan, finished, just like that. Still, I raised a smile, because I know how to laugh, loud and long. “Thanks for everything, Andrea.” As the club vice president and chief executive spoke, sat safely behind his desk, I had a look around. I knew his office like the back of my hand. It was a vault in the heart of Milan’s old administrative base on the Via Turati. I had happy memories of that room,: other contracts, other pens. And yet I’d never noticed some of the photos on the walls, or had done so so distractedly.

Those photos had a weighty history, but the prestige was subtly understated. There was every type of photo on display. Memories of the glory days and once-in-a-million occasions. Trophies lifted into the air; clouds always being pushed just a little bit out of shot. My picture had been taken down from the frame, but not by force. Getting bored of Milan was a risk I didn’t want to run. That’s why at that last meeting I was sorry, but just the right amount. Galliani and Tinti, my agent, both felt the same. We said our goodbyes without regret. In the space of half an hour (probably not even that), I was out of there. When the feeling’s gone, having an excuse can help.”Andrea, our coach Masssimiliano Allegri reckons that if you stay, you won’t be able to play in front of the back four of the defence. He’s got a different role in mind for you. Still in midfield, but on the left.” One small detail: I still thought I could give my best playing in front of the defence. If the sea’s deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him under the surface, he’ll get by, but it’s not quite the same thing. “Even with you sitting on the bench or in the stand we’ve won the league. And you know, Andrea, the strategy’s changed this year. If you’re over 30, we’re only offering a year’s extension.” Another small detail: I’ve never felt old, not even at that very moment. Only indirectly did I get the impression that people were trying to make out I was finished. Even now, I struggle to get my head round their reasoning. “Thanks, but I can’t really accept. There’s a three year deal on the table at Juventus.” It was a polite “no” to Milan, without money even entering the conversation that spring afternoon in 2011. Not once in that 30 minutes was it ever mentioned. I wanted to be thought of as important, a key player in the clubs plans, not someone about to be thrown on the scrapheap. It was, it seemed, the end of an era and I felt I needed something new. Alarm bells had been ringing ever since the middle of what ruined out to be the last season at the club, one ruined by a couple of injuries. I arrived at Milanello for training and realized that I didn’t want to go into the dressing room. Didn’t want to get changed, didn’t want to work. I got on well with everyone and had a normal kind of relationship with Allegri – there was just something in the air. I recognized the walls that over the years had sheltered and protected me, but now I was starting to see cracks. I could sense some kind of draught that was about to make me sick. The inner urge tp go somewhere else, to breathe a different air, became ever more pressing and intense. The poetry that had always surrounded me was now becoming routine. It wasn’t something I could ignore.

Even maybe the fans wanted a bit of relief. For so many years they’d applauded me at the San Siro of a Sunday (and a Saturday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday…), but now perhaps they wanted to stick new faces into their Panini album, hear new stories being told. They’d got used to the things I did, my movements, my creations. They weren’t awestruck any more. In their eyes, the extraordinary was in real danger of becoming normal. You cant be Pirlo any more. That was a difficult idea to accept. In actual fact, it was deeply unjust. It brought on the start of a sore stomach as I searched in vain for that lost stimulus. I sat down with Alessandro Nesta: a friend, brother, team-mate, roomie. A man whom I shared a thousand adventures, and about as many snacks. At half-time in one of our never-ending football games on the PlayStation, I confessed all. “Sandro, I’m leaving.” He didn’t seem surprised. “I’m really sorry to hear that. But it’s the right decision.”